research on non-knowledgable readers

Subject: research on non-knowledgable readers
From: Karen Schriver <ks0e+ -at- ANDREW -dot- CMU -dot- EDU>
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 1998 11:28:02 -0500

Rod Pritchett asked about whether there are research papers on writing
to non-expert readers. Yes! As a starter, try Mike Floreak's article in
a 1989 issue of Technical Communication "Designing for the Real World,"
and Zimmerman and Perkin (1982) "Instructing through Pictures" in the
British Information Design Journal. The first one shows how important it
is to try a visual approach to designing posters for low-literate
parents, but he also emphasizes testing the instructions. The second
article also takes a visual approach to creating educational
materials--this time for poor people in Bangladesh, Botswana, and
Guatemala in need of information about infectious diseases spread by
mosquitos and such They find that many instructional programs fail
because people don't respond well to print materials. They also adopted
a visual approach but found it worked only after many iterations of
testing. There is really only one way to write to meet the needs of
special audiences: find out what they know, believe, and assume. Then
design. Then test. Then redesign. Then retest. Then redesign. I have
many references to studies of people using instructions in my book
Dynamics in Document Design (1997) NY: John Wiley and Sons.

Here are the refs i mentioned.

Floreak, M. J. (1989). Designing for the real world: Using research to
turn a 'target audience' into real people. Technical Communication,
36(4), 373~381.

Zimmerman, M. L., & Perkin, G. W. (1982). Instructing through pictures:
Print materials for people who do not read. Information Design Journal,
3(2), 119~134.

Good Luck!

karen schriver
KSA Document Design and Research
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Excerpts from mail: 17-Mar-98 TECHWR-L Digest - 15 Mar 19.. by Automatic
processor -at- LIST
> Date: Mon, 16 Mar 1998 23:02:27 -0600
> From: Rod <rod -at- PATHCOM -dot- COM>
> Subject: non-knowledgable readers
> I am currently participating in a research project involving developing a
> wheelchair seating system for children. This new seating system will have a
> number of adjustable components and components that must not be adjusted.
> These adjustment will have to be detailed in an instruction manual. As part
> of this project, I am writing a research paper on methods for presenting
> instructional text to non-expert readers (in this case, the caregivers of
> the child). I am wondering if anyone has information references related to
> this topic?
> Rod Pritchett
> rod -at- pathcom -dot- com

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